Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

A new batch of quasi-recent movies I’ve had a chance to watch or re-watch recently!

Yes, it’s time for another round of brief movie thoughts about films made from 1960-1979 (I cheated on the last one, because I’m not sure when I’m going to get to “modern” movies again, but it came out in 1981, so it’s not like it’s all that recent). That I call those two decades “quasi-recent” shows you how very old I am!

Purple Noon (Plein Soleil) (1960). After watching this, I cannot figure out why it’s called Purple Noon. I really can’t. It seems completely random. Anyway, I saw The Talented Mr. Ripley in the theaters and loved it, so even though this came first, I can’t help but compare it to my (admittedly hazy – it’s been 20 years) memories, and in some things, this is worse, but it’s better in its choice of Ripley. I actually like Matt Damon, but Jude Law is just so radiant in the movie that he kind of outshines Damon, which I suppose is the point, but the movie is a bit disjointed because of it (as far as I remember). There’s no problem with this adaptation, in which Alain Delon (a superb actor) plays Tom Ripley brilliantly – personality-wise, he’s awkward enough to sell Ripley’s “social inferiority” but he looks like Alain Delon, so it’s not surprising people fall for his schtick. Philippe is also well cast, with Maurice Ronet portraying him as intelligent and cultured, but still kind of a monster, so we’re kind of rooting for Ripley. It helps that Ronet isn’t as pretty as Delon, too (Ronet was eight years older than Delon, and that shows). I didn’t love Marge, because this is a late 1950s/early 1960s movie, so filmmakers had no idea what to do with women, and Marge lets Greenleaf treat her like crap but pines away for him when he disappears – it’s frankly annoying. Still, this is a good thriller, and Delon is magnetic. It’s not quite as deep as the newer version (even the French didn’t want to touch the latent homosexuality, it seems!), but it’s still worth seeing.

Everyone lets him get away with stuff because he’s so pretty!

She (1965). I’ve only read one H. Rider Haggard book, and it wasn’t this one, so I have no idea how close to the book this hews. I do know they moved the time period up to right after World War I, which I think is a mistake – by 1918, Africa had been mapped, and while it wasn’t exactly easy to get around, it seems the trials and tribulations of the three adventurers are a bit out of place. They head into the desert to the Mountains of the Moon, which are real mountains, but in 1918, they probably could have taken the railroad to Uganda instead of camels. It’s a strange movie, anyway – Ursula Andress is the immortal ruler/white slaver in a mysterious hidden city, and people in Jerusalem are looking for the reincarnation of her lover, whom they find in John Richardson. Richardson, Peter Cushing, and Bernard Cribbins head into the desert to find “Kuma,” the lost city, but Richardson doesn’t tell his two compatriots that he’s going to stay with Andress and knock boots with her for eternity. It’s a pretty good adventure for most of the time, but it loses its way a bit at the end, when Andress does something ridiculously stupid that anyone could have told her would backfire on her. Everyone commits to the story, though, including Christopher Lee as Andress’s high priest, and it’s altogether harmless fun. Not a bad way to spend 100 minutes or so!

Christopher Lee is just trying to get in a better position to look down her cleavage, which is just really bad form, sir!

The Reward (1965). Now this is a bizarre movie. It wants to be The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, showing the folly of heading into the Mexican desert in the hope of finding fortune, but it’s … well, not. So Max von Sydow, a crop-dusting pilot, lands his plane and then crashes, and already the movie is confusing. Some dudes are right near him when he crashes, and it seems like they might have sabotaged him, but they didn’t. He just crashed. Anyway, he heads into town (a tiny village in rural Mexico), where he learns he owes a chunk of money for the water tower he destroyed when he crashed. He also sees Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., in a sports car. This is important because he’s met Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., but before he can talk to him, Zimbalist speeds off into the desert. Von Sydow discovers that Zimbalist is on the run from the law for a murder he (Zimbalist) says he didn’t commit, and he convinces the police captain to head into the desert with him and they can split the $50,000 reward. The captain takes three of his men with them (he doesn’t tell them about the reward, because he wants a bigger share), and off they go. So far, so good. They catch up Zimbalist and the woman he has with him, Yvette Mimieux, and begin to take them back, but that’s where the movie falls apart a bit. It took them barely any time to find Zimbalist, but it takes them many days to get back. Von Sydow stupidly took the newspaper clipping about the reward with him, and of course the most villainous of the three flunkies, Emilio Fernádez, snatches it and wants to split the reward five ways. Zimbalist keeps trying to convince von Sydow to help him, but von Sydow doesn’t care to. Sergeant Lopez keeps eyeing Mimieux and thinking about killing Zimbalist, as the reward is for him dead or alive. Henry Silva, looking incredibly baby-faced, is uncomfortable with the whole thing and tries to help the two gringos escape, with predictably sad results. The posse ends up in a ghost mining town, where everyone is looking at each other suspiciously. And then … the filmmakers ran out of film, I think. The ending of the movie is terrible, and while I don’t want to spoil it, I’ll just say it’s the most abrupt ending I think I’ve ever seen. Seriously. I can’t even believe any reason to end the movie the way they did unless they were out of money completely. It’s completely bizarre. Anyway, I’m glad I saw this movie simply because I had never heard of Mimieux before, and she’s absolutely stunning. She doesn’t have much to do, but she’s incredibly gorgeous while doing it (she’s also 23 years younger than Zimbalist). Other than that, it’s hard to find anything good to say about this movie.

Efrem Zimbalist obviously had no clue when it came to women, or he wouldn’t have run off into the desert with her, he would have taken her on a nice cruise!

Wait Until Dark (1967). Last time I did one of these, I wrote about Triple Cross, which was directed by Terence Young. That wasn’t a particularly good movie, but Young didn’t let that stop him, as he went on to direct this movie a year later (with one – The Rover – in between, because they cranked out movies in those days!). This is a terrific movie, with Audrey Hepburn – playing a woman who was blinded in an accident not too long before the events of the movie – squaring off against three men who want to get something out of her apartment. The item they want is not exactly a MacGuffin – it’s a doll loaded with heroin – but the beginning of the movie, in which it’s explained how the doll gets into Audrey Hepburn’s apartment, is a bit ridiculous, so the heroin becomes less and less important as Young just lets his talented cast act at each other. Alan Arkin is the ringleader of the men, and he hires Richard Crenna and Jack Weston to get the doll out of Hepburn’s apartment (don’t worry why it’s there; that’s the convoluted part). Hepburn’s husband, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., is away from the apartment, so Crenna, Weston, and Arkin come up with a convoluted plan to get the doll, and the fun of the movie is from how they manipulate Hepburn and how Hepburn figures out they’re not who they say they are. Crenna is great as the con artist who doesn’t really want to hurt anyone and kind of falls in love with Hepburn (to be fair, name one person in the universe who hasn’t fallen in love with Hepburn), but Arkin really shines as a pretty terrifying villain. Hepburn probably deserved her Oscar nomination (Hepburn won one Oscar, for Roman Holiday, which is insane when you think about her career – they should have canceled the Best Actress awards in 1961, when she didn’t win for Breakfast at Tiffany’s), but Arkin probably should have gotten one, too – he joked that he would never get one because people were too mad at him for scaring everyone’s sweetheart. I only have a couple of problems with the movie – the bad guys’ plan seems needlessly complicated, but such is life, but what really bugs me is that Young didn’t let Hepburn be tougher. She freaks out a few times, and I get that she’s a woman in a 1960s movie so of course she’s going to freak out, but they’re at weird moments. In the final scene, when she and Arkin square off, I buy it, but a few times before that, it just seems jarring. But that’s just a minor annoyance – this is a very good movie, and you should check it out!

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). I wasn’t terribly impressed with the remake of this movie when I saw it, and now that I’ve seen the original, I’m not terribly impressed with it, either. Let me be clear – neither movie is bad. Brosnan and Russo are terrific in the remake (so is Denis Leary), despite the fact that they have “movie sex” on marble stairs (my wife and I always like pointing out examples of “movie sex,” where the participants fuck on the most uncomfortable places and seem to dig it, even though in real life they wouldn’t), and it’s a fun enough flick. Similarly, McQueen and Dunaway are terrific in this movie, and it actually ends better than the remake. But both movies are kind of dumb, because they make the female lead an idiot, and it’s hard to see any redemption for them. Dunaway knows McQueen is the bad guy, and unlike the remake, people actually do seem to get hurt during his heists, so he’s even more of a villain than Brosnan, but because he has those steely eyes and that pretty hair, she doesn’t care. The allure of the movie is partly in the jazzy way it’s shot, and it’s a really nice film to look at, and the chess scene is great, yes, but I don’t love movies where the people fall in “love” when they’re really in lust. Neither of them love the other, which is why the ending works better than in the remake. But this movie gets really far thanks to the magnetism of its leads, which is crucial in a movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s all that good, either. But dang, Dunaway makes an entrance, doesn’t she?

Coogan’s Bluff (1968). This is Eastwood’s first movie that he made with Don Siegel, with whom he would make several others, most famously Dirty Harry. It’s kind of the template for that character, as Walt Coogan is an anti-hero cop who ignores his superiors because he wants to get the job done and they keep throwing bureaucracy at him. Whether it’s that Eastwood and Siegel wanted to change or the times had changed between this and 1971, by the time Dirty Harry came out they had smoothed out the edges a bit – Harry is a much nicer dude than Coogan is, as odd as that is to say. Harry might have been tougher on the bad guys, but the bad guys were a lot worse than Ringerman, who fled Arizona after committing murder but doesn’t go around torturing people like the crazy dude in Dirty Harry. Harry, however, is nicer to women and “non-combatants” – in this movie, he’s not rough with Susan Clark, but he has no interest in her except for sex, and he bangs Tisha Sterling (playing Ringerman’s girlfriend) just because he can, but after she leads him into an ambush, he throws her around her apartment fairly violently until she agrees to lead him to her boyfriend. The contrast between the salt-of-the-earth Arizona lawman and the urbane city cops is the driving force of the movie, and Lee J. Cobb plays the tired, too-old-for-this-shit New York cop with the right amount of too-old-for-this-shit attitude (Eastwood was 37 or so when the movie was made, while Cobb was 56/57, so it’s not just the rural/urban thing, but the young/old thing, too). It’s not a great movie, but it’s not bad, especially because Eastwood is his typical very good self and Siegel was always a good action director, so the motorcycle/foot chase around the Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park is pretty keen, and the pool hall fight is well done (and is overseen by main bad guy … Bosley from Charlie’s Angels – no, Bosley, no!!!!). Eastwood’s bemused stroll through the nightclub when he looks for Tisha is a good scene, too, because it’s another example of Eastwood’s rural attitude coming into odd conflict with the urban setting. It’s a pretty good movie, but not one of Eastwood’s best (he made Where Eagles Dare right after this, so if you’re looking for a great Eastwood movie …)

Tisha Sterling can call my bluff anytime!

Magnum Force (1973). Speaking of good Eastwood movies, it’s the second Dirty Harry movie! I like all the Dirty Harry movies (yes, even The Dead Pool), and this sequel is a bit more interesting than the first one, because it’s obviously a response to those who thought Harry was too outside the law in the first one. So the heavyweight screenwriting team of John Milius and Michael Cimino (neither of whom were quite the heavyweights they would become, but still) gave us even more extreme cops, and Harry has to defend the system he hates because, according to him, it’s the best one they have for now. This is a fairly bloody movie (it has the most deaths in any Dirty Harry movie), but it’s nice and suspenseful, even though we’re fairly certain who the bad guys are from the moment we meet them (the big bad is easy to figure out, too, even though he’s revealed much later), and the action scenes are quite good. Harry even gets to bang his Asian neighbor because apparently a lot of Asian women wrote to Eastwood propositioning him, so good for him! David Soul, of course, is the main rookie cop who impresses Harry, and he does a decent job, while Tim Matheson (who five years later, at the age of 30, would play a college student in Animal House), Robert Urich, and Kip Niven don’t have too much to do, unfortunately. The only thing I really don’t like is that Harry’s partner dies, because he had already been warned about a threat to his life and it’s not like he’s even a “Woman in a Refrigerator” because at the end of the movie, Harry doesn’t know he’s dead yet. It seems like a waste. Anyway, lots of violence, Suzanne Somers topless, an amazing pimpmobile – what’s not to love about this movie?

11 Harrowhouse (1974). What a weird movie this is. It’s a heist movie, but it’s kind of a comedy, and when Charles Grodin is your leading man, it’s very hard to tell how much we should take seriously as Grodin’s dead-pan is legendary. Grodin is a diamond merchant who hates the monopolistic company from which he buys his diamonds, represented by John Gielgud at his tight-lipped, British best. He takes a job with a famous gangster-turned-magnate, but when the job goes wrong, the gangster (played with exuberance by Trevor Howard) says he can pay him back by robbing the vault of something like $20 billion in diamonds. Grodin and his girlfriend, Candice Bergen (who is fairly gleeful in the role) enlist James Mason, an employee with a terminal illness and a grudge against the diamond monopoly, and they pull off the heist. But of course there are double-crosses galore, but it’s all done very lightly, with car chases through the English countryside and such, which makes the tone of the movie very odd. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it is a bit weird. Grodin is fun, like the rest of the cast, and his character’s lack of drama with Bergen is refreshing – they love each other, and nothing really stops them from loving each other. The heist is clever, cars explode for no reason whatsoever, Bergen drives like a maniac, and everyone looks like they’re having a grand time. Nothing wrong with that!

Comes a Horseman (1978). The Seventies were the era of “anti-Westerns,” a genre that took the Western conventions and stood them on their heads a little, and this entry from Alan J. Pakula is a good example of that – it’s a Western set in 1945! Pakula isn’t a great director, despite making some solid movies, and he doesn’t do much with this flimsy story – it’s the same story we’ve always gotten in Westerns, as the small-time operator is menaced by the big land baron and the city slickers who want to exploit the land. So Pakula devotes much of the running time to showing how ranchers live and work, which would have been fine for a documentary but is pretty boring for a feature and goes on far too long. The only thing he really does differently, and it’s not a bad idea, is show that the land baron – Jason Robards – has more in common with the small-time operator – Jane Fonda – than with the city slickers. Robards wants Fonda’s land because his grandfather owned the whole valley (the movie is set in Colorado but was mostly filmed around Flagstaff, AZ) and he wants it back. The city slickers want to drill for oil, and they ally themselves with Robards because he’s the richest dude around, but it becomes clear that he wants to keep the land pristine, just like Fonda does – he just wants to own it all. So he’s fighting on two fronts, and while the ending is pretty dumb once he figures out how to deal with the oil dudes and can focus on Fonda, it’s still an interesting twist in the standard narrative. Anyway, it’s a beautiful movie – most people think of Arizona as a desert wasteland, but there are plenty of beautiful forested places around if you feel like finding them – and the cast is terrific. Robards is good as an evil dude whose motives we can see so we can understand him even if we still think he’s evil, James Caan is good as the dude to whom Fonda sold some land but who becomes her partner because he can’t work the land himself after Robards has his partner (played by a baby-faced Mark Harmon) killed, and Richard Farnsworth is the grizzled old veteran who dispenses wisdom and might as well have “sacrificial victim” tattooed on his forehead. Fonda dominates the movie, and she’s probably the biggest reason to watch this movie. Most people remember Fonda as the wacko who went to Hanoi and who did the whole fitness thing in the 1980s and who married Ted Turner, and her quitting acting for 15 years from 1990-2005 probably didn’t help, but she is a fiercely talented actor, and she’s mesmerizing in this movie. She’s defiant to the point of stupidity, but we can see that she refuses to bend because of her circumstances – her husband died in World War II, and as a woman trying to stand up to the powerful men in society, she’s alone. Even Caan, who’s very sympathetic, can’t help her, and she resists his help, perhaps stupidly, but because she knows she can’t allow anything to weaken her position. Unfortunately, she and Caan do become lovers, but it’s done in the weirdest fashion – one moment they’re not lovers, then we cut to a scene where they wake up in bed together. They certainly don’t act like they’re in love, even though both actors work well together. Anyway, Fonda is superb, but the movie is just kind meh. Oh well.

Blow Out (1981). I love this movie, but I hadn’t seen it in a while, so I figured I give it a rewatch. And I still love it! I haven’t seen a ton of Brian De Palma movies – I’ve seen the big guns, but not even all of those, and none of his “smaller” movies – but this one is so good I can’t believe it’s not one of his best. It’s really bleak, of course, but it’s still really gripping. Nobody believes Travolta and Allen and their story of a conspiracy, and because men in the highest levels of power are pulling the strings, they have almost no hope to get their story out. I do love how De Palma never really identifies the people pulling the strings – you have to pay attention to the television early on to spot the only dude higher up than John Lithgow – which makes the movie all the more terrifying, because they really are nameless and faceless. Travolta is terrific – apparently Tarantino cast him in Pulp Fiction because of this movie – and Allen is a character who becomes more and more interesting as the movie goes along. I love movies that drop in critiques of society without making a big deal about it, and everything about Allen is a feminist critique of society without being obvious about it because she’s such a good character. This is Lithgow’s break-out role, and he’s quite good – the phone call he makes confessing to his first murder is really creepy. Also, of course, this is a fascinating tutorial about how movies get made, which is always neat. De Palma has always been a master craftsman, and his use of deep focus (by using a split-focus diopter lens) is very cool – I love deep focus, and I wish more directors used it. His use of red is brilliant, too, as it always foreshadows death (using red for this isn’t clever, but the way he does it is). It’s bizarre to think that this was really the final movie in the First Travolta Era, which came to a crashing end in Staying Alive from 1983, and that Travolta wandered in the wasteland until 1994 and the dawn of the Second Travolta Era. Travolta isn’t the greatest actor, but he’s pretty good, and it’s weird that for over a decade, he was relegated to crap. I wonder if he pissed off the wrong people. Anyway, see Blow Out if you haven’t yet. It’s much, MUCH better than its spiritual ancestor, Blow-Up, and you get to see a lot of Philadelphia!

So that’s some more movies I’ve seen recently. One of these days I might actually get to the theater to see a first-run movie! Wouldn’t that be neat!


  1. Jeff Nettleton

    Tend to agree about Magnum Force, among the Dirty Harry movies. One of the best entries, from a story standpoint and a great cast. I, too, like all of them, though Dead Pool least of all (little too much of a tv detective show plot).

    Coogan’s Bluff is also a nice one and has the distinction of inspiring the tv series McCloud, with Dennis Weaver, which was always a favorite in my house (all of the NBC Mystery Movie shows were, especially McCloud and Columbo).

    Wait Until Dark was a favorite of my sister, who is a big Audrey Hepburn fan. She didn’t own a ton of videos (unlike me) but, she had this one an rewatched it often. Good, suspenseful film. Audrey was never bad, even in mediocre films, like Always. Loved her as the middle aged Marion, in Robin & Marion, with Sean Connery as an aging Robin Hood.

    I have read She and the film uses the basic plot; but, ignores most of the story. As Lost World movies go, it’s decent, though not especially memorable. There was a sequel, which wasn’t particularly good. Ayesha aka She, appeared in a few books, from Haggard, including She and Allan, where Haggard’s other hero, Allan Quatermain meets Ayesha. If you’ve only read one Haggard, I’m willing to bet it was King Solomon’s Mines, which is probably his best adventure novel.

    I kind of prefer the heist in the remake of Thomas Crown; but, neither film does much for me. I intensely hate that Windmills of Your Mind song, from the original. I didn’t like it any better when Sting covered it.

    11 Harrowhouse is one that I missed, and I’m pretty up on my caper films. I’ll have to check that one out. A nice one that is a bit more obscure is Grand Slam, with Janet Leigh, Edward G Robinson and Klaus Kinski. Not so much a caper comedy, as a heist film, though it has some lighter moments. Nice Mission impossible-style plan of breaking into a diamond vault. For comedy, though, The Seven Golden men is a really fun one, where a group tunnels into a Swiss bank vault and removes the gold there, then runs into trouble trying to get it out of the country. Lots of fun and a sizzling hot female lead, Rosanna Podesta (it’s an Italian film).

    You had never seen Yvette Mimieux? She was Weena, in George Pal’s The Time Machine, is a Belgian woman in Dark of the Sun (also with Rod Taylor, as is the Time Machine) and was in Disney’;s The Black Hole. Decent actress; but was cast more for her looks, than anything else. She was from the US, but her father was French and her mother was Mexican.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Jeff: Yes, the only Haggard I’ve read is King Solomon’s Mines, which I liked quite a lot. I also have the movie on my DVR, so I’ll get to it eventually!

      The heist in 11 Harrowhouse is well done, and I won’t spoil why there’s a cockroach on the movie poster. I haven’t seen the movies you mention, but then again, I’m woefully behind on movies earlier than 1980. That’s just the way it is!

      I mentioned to a friend about Mimieux, and he had the same reaction you did. I’ve never seen The Black Hole, but it too is on my DVR, so I’ll get to it soon enough. And I haven’t seen the other movies, either. I hang my head in shame! 🙂

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Oh, man: Yvette Mimieux. One of my early screen-star crushes after I saw the Time Machine on TV in my early teens… You should be ashamed for not knowing who she is! 😛

    Blow Out – only saw it once, on TV back in the 1990s, but yeah, I agree: it’s a surprisingly good (and dark) movie. (Also, I thought a slightly youngish Dennis Franz was well-cast as that kind of slimey character.) You just reminded me that I wouldn’t mind watching it again.
    As for Travolta, it’s always been my impression that by the early ’80s he was suffering from overexposure due to top billing in a series of blockbuster ‘fad’ films: Saturday Night Fever, Grease and Urban Cowboy – regardless of their actual content, all three of these rode (and in the case of the first and last, even partially created) wider pop culture waves of the time, i.e., disco and the 50s nostalgia of the 1970s and the mainstreaming of country/western at the start of the 1980s – fads that then crashed and burned, and Travolta was tethered to all of them. I think that’s why he didn’t get taken seriously for higher-quality films for the better part of a decade.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Edo: What can I say? By the time I started seeing movies regularly, she was kind of out of the picture. I’m trying to catch up on my 1960s/1970s movie-watching! 🙂

      That’s a good point about Travolta. It sounds true!

  3. Joining in the ahhhh Yvette Mimieux commentary.
    I think I saw Wait Until Dark around the time my theater group (more my mother’s theater group) was putting on the stage version, and I actually preferred our take. I don’t remember why (the cast was very good, but I’m pretty sure not up to Hepburn and Arkin).
    For a fun H. Rider Haggard, there’s “The World’s Desire,” which he cowrote with Andrew Lang. Odysseus’ wife dies so he goes to seek out Helen of Troy, who’s hiding in Egypt. Which is in chaos because the god of some slave tribe is inflicting plagues on them because Pharaoh won’t let his people go. And it turns out Pharaoh’s queen, Helen and Odysseus are parts of a reincarnate love triangle that’s existed since the dawn of times. It’s a wild mix.
    I love She and Allan if only for a scene in which Alan sees his loved ones in the afterlife and none of them are thinking about him (they’ve got stuff to do, they know he’ll be there eventually). I thought it was a refreshing twist on the assumption our parents/kids/spouses will just sit around pining for us.
    Wisdom’s Daughter, which was Ayesha’s life story, introduces the character E. Nelson Bridwell reworked into Dr. Mist (in the book it’s just a one-page appearance of a previous visitor to the flame of life).

  4. I’m just going to join the chorus here. The Time Machine is a somewhat stodgy affair, very much a typical George Pal movie (if you haven’t yet, see War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide while you’re at it), but it does feature a luminescent Yvette Mimieux as the future girl our hero falls for. She lied about her age in order to get cast, turning 18 on the last day of shooting.

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